On Aug. 23 of last year Turlock native and 2012 Pitman High School graduate Stephen Gugel passed away following a freak bicycle accident at the Patterson Skate Park. He was just 19 years old, but he led a life of laughter and fun.
Saturday night about two-dozen of his friends joined his older sister Amber Gugel at the skate park to remember Stephen and to hold a memorial on the one-year anniversary of his tragic passing.
“Stephen was always happy, loud, obnoxious and goofy,” said Amber, 22. “He would always say he never had any friends, but he had hundreds of friends and after he died so many people came up to me and said he was their friend.”
Known as the life of the party, his closest circle of buddies, Seamus Reid, Johnny Ralston and Bradley Kirchert said Stephen love to eat, laugh and have fun.
“He could eat half a sleeve of Oreo cookies in one bite,” joked Ralston. “I learned from Stephen to have fun in everything you do and if you're not having fun it’s then not worth doing.”
“Since he died things are different, everyone is different,” said Reid. “He was always that one person who always kept everyone together.”
Stephen was an avid bike rider, and was a regular at the Patterson Skate Park, even though bicycles were not permitted.
“He loved the skate park it was like his second home and family,” said Amber.
Former City of Patterson City Councilmember Annette Smith, who was at the skate park with her son the night of Stephen’s death, said Stephen was well liked and his outgoing presence is missed.
“He was a regular at the park, he was always good natured and everyone loved him, he was so likable” she said. “It was such a freak, unfortunate accident. I saw him with the paramedics and he was in and out of consciousness but never in a million years would I have imagined he would have died. It seemed like maybe he just broke some ribs”
It is believed Stephen was showing a younger child a trick on his bike when somehow he landed wrong and fell on the handlebars in his abdominal area. Later he passed away from internal bleeding at 4:03 a.m. at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.
Smith said the next day more than 200 people gathered at the park to remember him.
It was clear Stephen cared about the skate park. Three nights before his death, Smith said he stopped a drunk driver with his truck.
“It was obvious the guy was drunk driving and Stephen saw him and boom, he was in his truck and pulled in front of the driver to stop him. He called the cops and he was arrested,” explained Smith. “I know he saved someone’s life that day.”
Stephen was so passionate about his beloved skate park and his favorite activity that he spoke at a Patterson City Council during a public meeting in 2013 to allow bicycles at the park.
“He loved riding bikes, he loved riding anything with wheels,” said Kirchert. “If it had wheels he would ride it.”